A pre-schooler's career decision that never wavered
As director of oncology operations at Regional One Health Cancer Center, Tiffany Rooks, RN, MBA, oversees the day-to-day workings at a site that includes seven physicians and five nurse practitioners.
It's a relatively new position for her, since the outpatient center at 1588 Union Ave. had been the West Cancer Center and Research Institute before partnering with Regional One on March 1.
"Regional One adds an alignment by two of our community's leading health care organizations to provide outstanding and compassionate care," said Rooks. "The center was already here and now, with Regional One, we are enhancing cancer care in this community."
The center, which sees an average of 130 adult cancer patients a day, provides diagnosis, medical oncology, gynecologic oncology, surgical oncology, and infusions and injections for chemotherapy, immunotherapy and therapeutic phlebotomy.
"We also do biopsies, imaging scans and lab tests here, so this is basically a one-stop outpatient shop," she added. "Our goal is to continue to offer high-quality care to patients diagnosed with cancer and hematologic disorders."
Over more than 18 years in nursing, Rooks has worked in Methodist Le Bonheur Health Care, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, West Cancer, One Oncology and now Regional One.
"I started in pediatrics at Le Bonheur and working in neurology and neurosurgery piqued my interest in oncology," she said. "In 2007 I went to St. Jude to see and learn more about what was happening there. Management was something I walked into. I enjoyed informatics, computers, doing things with technology and I would volunteer for additional assignments and leadership classes.
"As I continued to take on more roles and responsibilities, I found that management is something I truly enjoy. Eventually I decided to get my MBA and found it extremely fascinating," she said.
She spent 10 years at St. Jude where, during her last year, she served as interim Chief Nursing Officer when the CNO who held that position for more than 30 years retired.
"There were about 12 departments and 800 staff members the CNO was responsible for, so it was a big jump," said Rooks, who oversaw one department and two employees when she made the move. "Not only was I responsible for nursing at the time, but also all of patient-care services reported to the CNO."
She said the transition was made smoother with the help of the former CNO and the various administrators, directors and senior team leaders. Gradually she began to develop her own management style.
"You definitely have to be flexible," Rooks said. "For me personally, I looked at what type of manager or leader would I want to work for. That's the leader I strive to be. I focus on collaboration and buy-in, and really working to get to know as many people as possible. It was almost impossible to meet all 800 people, but it's important to know names, to know faces, and to know stories.
"If you remember people and you make connections with people, then you know who you should talk to if you have questions or you need assistance. You just do better when you can sit and you can speak with a person or a group, or with an entire team, and express that there's a change that needs to be made or a budget decision to make. That's much better than independently making a decision and not sharing that, so I really strive for collaboration, buy-in and teamwork. Something else that's really important is transparency and being honest."
The biggest change she has seen in her two decades in nursing has been in technology.
"When I was at the bedside, we were just starting medical records," Rooks recalled. "We didn't have barcode scanners for medication administration, there were no workstations on wheels, and we used calculators. We didn't have Apple watches or Smartphones. Technology definitely has been a game changer."
Rooks, a native Memphian, earned an associate degree in nursing from Southwest Tennessee Community College, a bachelor's degree in nursing from Baptist Health Sciences University, and her MBA from Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn.
She traces her interest in nursing to her early years as a kindergarten student.
"I was five years old and on career day I said I wanted to be a cash register because I liked numbers. Not a cashier, but a cash register," Rooks said with a laugh. "My teacher said I couldn't be a cash register because they're not human, and she asked me if there was anything else. She said what about a teacher, and I said no, and we worked our way through a list until she came to nursing.
"I had only very positive memories about nurses because I was always a healthy child and what I remembered from my annual trips to my pediatrician was there was always this nice person - a nurse - there to help me. So, I thought, yes, that's something I'd like to do. I want to be a nurse. So, at that point I decided nursing is for me, that's what I will do, and I've never deviated from it."
When she's away from her nursing and management duties, Rooks likes to spend time with her husband and three children, the oldest of whom is a nursing major at the University of Memphis.
She also makes designer T-shirts, mostly for vacations and get-togethers with her large, extended family living in Memphis. Her other hobby is baking, including her special mini chocolate Bundt cakes. You can't go wrong with those, Rooks notes, "unless you eat too many of them."